As fast food companies see their lunch and dinner sales stagnate, the industry’s leaders are turning their focus to the early morning hours. Taco Bell recently rolled out its first breakfast items, including “The Waffle Taco,” while Burger King has unveiled an all-new “Burgers At Breakfast” menu. These new offerings have put the longtime leader in fast-food breakfast, McDonald’s, on the defensive, pushing the restaurant chain to reconfigure its early bird strategy with a new emphasis on its McCafé products. We discuss what’s behind the “breakfast wars” and explore how fast food trends correspond to American lifestyles.

Guests

  • Susan Berfield Writer, Bloomberg Businessweek
  • Gabriella Petrick Associate Professor, Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, George Mason University; Author, "Industrializing Taste: Food Processing and the Transformation of the American Diet, 1900-­1965"

Tell Us About Your Fast Food Breakfast Experience

Transcript

  • 12:24:03

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. It's the latest front in the fast food wars. McDonalds, Burger King and Wendy's have been fighting for 50 years over the meal on your dinner plate. Taco Bell even tried to add a fourth meal for late-night eating. Now, the fast food giants are turning their focus to the most important meal of the day, breakfast. Taco Bell's out with a waffle taco, a syrupy play on the chain's daytime favorite. And Burger King is bringing, well, burgers to the morning menu.

  • 12:24:28

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIWhile McDonalds, a long-time leader in breakfast, is trying to keep its early bird customers with caffeine, sometimes even giving away free coffee. Whatever it takes to get a bite out of a $30 billion breakfast market. Joining us to discuss this is Gabriella Petrick. She's a professor in the department of nutrition and food studies at George Mason University. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:24:51

    PROF. GABRIELLA PETRICKIt's a pleasure to be here, Kojo.

  • 12:24:53

    NNAMDIAlso joining us by phone is Susan Berfield. She covers the fast food industry, among other things, for Bloomberg Business Week. Susan Berfield, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:25:01

    MS. SUSAN BERFIELDThanks for having me on.

  • 12:25:03

    NNAMDISusan, McDonalds has been serving up breakfast for some time, offering the usual morning items, coffee, hash browns, and also some things that are a little more unusual like the McGriddle and Egg and Sausage sandwich with two syrup-filled pancakes as buns. So why are we seeing other fast food chains try to get a piece of this early-morning market now?

  • 12:25:24

    BERFIELDWell, the fast food industry has become a lot more competitive in the past couple of years. And that's partly because people in general are spending less money in the restaurants. And so every chain is looking to grab consumers and get them in there and eating at all times of the day. So breakfast is in some ways the last great frontier. McDonalds, as you mentioned, has really owned that part of the marketplace since it came out with the Egg McMuffin in the 1970s.

  • 12:25:59

    NNAMDIGabriella, many chain restaurants today, as Susan pointed out, including Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, see the morning crowd as the last untapped group of consumers. Why would breakfast be the final area for growth in an industry that has expanded dramatically in the last several decades?

  • 12:26:15

    PETRICKI think that has a lot more to do with just the changing nature of American culture. You know, so when I went -- I did a little survey yesterday and went -- these are all very handheld objects. And so what I see in that is part of it is taking things off of the breakfast table in the morning and tapping onto what your previous guest was talking about, the things that may be healthier for us, and putting an old-fashioned 1950s American breakfast with bacon and sausage and eggs in something portable. And really trying to get us out there and just moving in, as we do, as very fast-paced culture.

  • 12:26:51

    NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation give us a call, 800-433-8850. How do you think fast food trends influence the way we eat, if at all. What foods do you like for breakfast? Would you start your day off with a Waffle Taco, a Whopper or a McGriddle sandwich? Why or why not? 800-433-8850. Send email to kojo@wamu.org.

  • 12:27:13

    NNAMDIMcDonalds' customers pay less for a McDonalds Sausage McMuffin and Hash Brown, than they do for burgers and fries later in the day. Yet, breakfast is where the fast food giant reports the highest profit margins. What makes it so easy, Susan, to make money off breakfast?

  • 12:27:31

    BERFIELDWell, even though McDonalds has a pretty big menu at breakfast, it's not as big as the rest of the menu. So they can kind of concentrate the offerings. And I think anytime you can simplify the operations you can make them more efficient and therefore you keep more of the money. And I think also coffee has a bit to do with that. I mean, coffee is -- can be easy to make -- good coffee maybe you could argue is harder to make, but, nonetheless, you know, McDonalds sells a lot of coffee now. And for almost every restaurant that is a real profit maker.

  • 12:28:10

    NNAMDIGabriella?

  • 12:28:11

    PETRICKYeah, I mean coffee has been America's drink for a long time. And throughout the 1950s, even into the 1960s, most Americans drank coffee most of the time. Soda wasn't our drink of choice. More recently with chains like Starbucks and the push -- there's been a set of coffee wars, as well, in these breakfast wars. Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts have really pushed high-end coffee. And so McDonalds has really had to respond to that to make a better cup of coffee.

  • 12:28:37

    PETRICKBut when I was a kid in the 1970s my dad could reliably get a good cup of coffee from McDonalds. So they've sort of targeted that market. I think some of the newer chains are going to really have to work harder -- maybe not Starbucks, but I think Taco Bell, in my investigation yesterday -- well…

  • 12:28:52

    NNAMDISusan, if fast food companies are expanding breakfast options they must have reason to believe that more customers are eating breakfast away from their homes. How interested are American consumers in eating breakfast at McDonalds, Taco Bell or Starbucks?

  • 12:29:07

    BERFIELDWell, I think Americans are interested in convenience. Americans are interested in cheap food. And breakfast at these restaurants I would say, maybe the Waffle Taco and others notwithstanding, generally, generally is a bit healthier than some of their other offerings. But I think convenience is probably the first reason. You know, as Gabriella was saying, the sandwich, you know, and the fact that you can have everything, you know, the bacon, cheese, eggs, you know, in a muffin or in a, you know, in a wrap or anything at these places is, you know, what Americans are generally used to eating.

  • 12:29:50

    BERFIELDYou know, almost half of the people who eat fast food for breakfast, eat one of these sandwiches. And at the same time, you know, they often are eating them in the car. So it's not only a sandwich, but something that you can hold in one hand while you're driving. So if, you know, if any of these places can offer that, than I think they have a good chance at at least, you know, getting a few more customers. I don't think they're going to really, you know, do serious damage to McDonalds in the short term.

  • 12:30:24

    NNAMDIA taco waffle while driving, it's my prediction that…

  • 12:30:27

    BERFIELDOkay. Don't do that.

  • 12:30:27

    NNAMDI…the next big item on the market is going to be aprons for drivers. That's going to be…

  • 12:30:31

    BERFIELDYeah, syrup is probably (unintelligible).

  • 12:30:36

    NNAMDIGabriella, we may think that many Americans are still sitting down at their kitchen table with coffee, breakfast and a newspaper each morning, but how have Americans breakfast-eating habits evolved over the years?

  • 12:30:47

    PETRICKYou know, it's really changed quite radically. So if we look back to…

  • 12:30:50

    NNAMDIYeah, and the newspaper's gone, that's one. But go ahead.

  • 12:30:53

    PETRICKWe sit there with our tablets now, right? So, you know, if we look back to the turn of the 20th century, we didn't necessarily eat three meals a day. And breakfast wasn't what we think about it it today as eggs and bacon and sausage. In fact, bacon doesn't become ubiquitous in American culture until after the Cold War and during the Cold War, because we didn't have the technologies to make and slice bacon and shingle them on those really nice packages.

  • 12:31:19

    PETRICKSo when we think about not only what we eat, but how much we eat and where we eat, that really is a product of the changing industrial nature of our American society. And so you're moving from people who would, you know, grab a cup of coffee and have lunch at school, even, and in factories. To now with the knowledge economy and figuring out where we go and how many meals and throughout the 1980s we were told we should eat six meals. We should graze.

  • 12:31:51

    PETRICKAnd new data in the nutrition literature is sort of questioning, for adults anyway, not children, that -- whether we need to eat breakfast or not. And whether that's actually healthy. And how many meals we need. So this idea of three squares a day is pretty much a product of the post-war society in American culture.

  • 12:32:07

    NNAMDIWell, since we're talking breakfast, I might as well go to the chicken/egg question, which comes first. Do you think fast food trends, like the current breakfast craze, are a response to changing American habits or do you think it's the other way around, that fast food trends actually change how we eat, Gabriella?

  • 12:32:23

    PETRICKI think, you know, I think it's a combination because we had Go-Gurt for a long time. That portable yogurt that children could suck on in the car on the way home or that quick snack. And so I think the breakfast fits into this ever hardening idea about a mobile culture. But I'm just completely fascinated. As we're -- we know we should be eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. We know that dairy is pretty good for us and we should -- or at least for most people -- that we should be trying to eat these different things.

  • 12:32:51

    PETRICKWhen we look at what ends up in there, they end up being the worst thing. So I think it's this mixed -- this tension for what we want at home, but we might not eat at home. And so we put it there, so we're going to indulge when we go out.

  • 12:33:05

    NNAMDI800-433-8850. It's a Food Wednesday conversation on fast food's breakfast wars. How do you think fast food trends influence the way we eat, if at all. You can also send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to kojo@wamu.org. Here's Mark, in Herndon, Va. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:33:25

    MARKHi, Kojo. Just wanted to make a comment that these days we're eating, you know, what I'd almost call pretend foods and they're being marketed and sold and people are consuming them. But they're really pretend foods. The Waffle Taco, you know, is being yet another example of it. And, you know, you can take the syrup that's on it. It's not even syrup, it's syrup or a corn sweetener with caramel flavor.

  • 12:33:47

    MARKSo, you know, people, honestly, I think need to get back to the basics. If you want a fried egg and a piece of bacon for breakfast, it really only takes you a few minutes to cook it and it's pretty easy. You get it cooked the way you like. It's healthy. You want coffee, you can buy a, you know, a pound of coffee for pretty cheap, unground, grind it and while your bacon and eggs are cooking you can drink the coffee and put in, you know, good milk.

  • 12:34:10

    MARKBut I think people are being marketed and sold pretend foods. And they have to question, what am I eating? What's in it? Is this really food? And, you know, when I talk about fake food, it's almost a pink-slime issue that goes into burgers at McDonalds, etcetera. If there's a ground meat product these days, I don't touch it. Because, honestly, it's stuff that is highly questionable.

  • 12:34:33

    NNAMDII am so glad you brought up burgers, Mark. Because, Susan, Burger King's new effort to attract a share of the morning market is it's Burgers at Breakfast menu. It's exactly what it sounds like. A Whopper for breakfast. Why is Burger King selling its normal daytime menu, when its competitors are offering eggs and coffee? Real or pretend.

  • 12:34:53

    BERFIELDWell, Burger King does also offer a full, like, breakfast menu. But they've added burgers. And I think, you know, it's a way, in part, to attract attention. You know, there are people who, you know, think that maybe that's, you know, it's good to have a lot of protein from, you know, from beef or kind of so-called beef in the morning. You know, none of these restaurants make changes quickly or lightly. You know, they're big companies and they're generally responding to either research that they've done, you know, feedback that they're getting from consumers.

  • 12:35:33

    BERFIELDNow, it doesn't mean they don't make mistakes and they don't make expensive mistakes, but, you know, they must have a reason to believe that at least some small portion of their customers -- and I'm thinking, like, you know, young men, would have a burger for breakfast.

  • 12:35:51

    PETRICKI think that's true. I think we could also think about the changing -- and the diversity of Americans and who we think we are. And so as we have newer immigrant groups who come in that aren't necessarily eggs-for-breakfast kind of groups, these types of innovations might appeal to them.

  • 12:36:06

    NNAMDICan a chain like Burger King redefine what breakfast means to Americans by selling burgers?

  • 12:36:12

    PETRICKI think not initially, but I think they may be reflecting changing notions of what might be for breakfast these days. And sort of thinking about the groups that are in their areas. Because often…

  • 12:36:22

    NNAMDIWell, a lot of people go back to steak and eggs.

  • 12:36:24

    PETRICKYeah, it's good stuff.

  • 12:36:28

    NNAMDI800-433-8850. We move on to Ely, in Vienna, Va. Ely, your turn.

  • 12:36:36

    ELYSounds like a plan to me. I've been having fun playing with my diet lately. And I teach gymnastics and I bike to work. And it's six and a half miles and it's no small business. And I've taken to just blending everything. It's really easy to just put it in my water bottle and eat while I'm in the middle of my commute. But a fun thing that I've -- well, not necessarily fun, as mildly depressing. I can tell when kids have bad things to eat every day.

  • 12:37:14

    NNAMDIHow?

  • 12:37:15

    ELYBecause they're performance in the gym. It's a well-known fact that kids do not go out outside and play anymore. Video games are fantastic as far as they're concerned. So…

  • 12:37:29

    NNAMDIBut how can you tell from their performance in the gym what kind of diet they've been eating?

  • 12:37:34

    ELYWell, the high sugar, sometimes a lot of caffeine, I'll see them in the beginning of the warm up playing tag while they're running. We really try and cut down on that because if you have 30 kids running around in a circle and one of them is playing tag with another kid people fall down and it's a wonderful traffic jam. But, you know, kids that have high caffeine, high sugar diets they wind up in the beginning because they get access to the sugar, it hits the bloodstream right away.

  • 12:38:06

    ELYAn hour later they are dragging their feet. They are not very responsive. They don't talk very much. I mean, yeah, they've had a workout, but I see other kids who are eating well -- there's a…

  • 12:38:20

    NNAMDIWho last longer.

  • 12:38:23

    ELYOh, man. Yeah.

  • 12:38:24

    NNAMDIOkay.

  • 12:38:25

    ELYIt's a -- there's a divide, but…

  • 12:38:26

    NNAMDIWho have more durability. Ely, thank you very much for your call. Susan, even in fast food, breakfast seems to have a time and place. McDonalds only serves its morning menu until 10:30 a.m. What's keeping these companies from offering breakfast all day?

  • 12:38:42

    BERFIELDOh, boy, a lot of people have been asking that question, Kojo. McDonalds has to answer it almost every time they get on the phone with anybody. And, you know, for McDonalds the problem is that they use the same equipment, or some of it anyway, to cook -- in their terms -- breakfast and lunch. And so they have to figure out how to almost kind of reformulate how people work in the kitchens there, in order to be able to serve both things at the same time.

  • 12:39:20

    BERFIELDAnd that's an expensive proposition. And they haven't been willing to, you know, to try it out. What they've done instead is in some places offer breakfast from midnight to 4:00 a.m., but they have never suggested that all-day breakfast is coming any time soon.

  • 12:39:43

    NNAMDIGabriella, we may think of cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and a hot meal for dinner, but for the average American to what extent are foods linked with a specific time of the day?

  • 12:40:00

    PETRICKAnd so, I think, you know, that's one of the things that I think about with McDonald's. One of the reasons they're not willing to go all day is because they don't think the clients would want it. You get there, you know, they could maybe push it to 11. They move it on Sunday, which is funny, right? So Sundays breakfast lasts longer and brunch. And the New York Times just a had a fascinating article about high-end brunch now that chefs are -- it's hot.

  • 12:40:23

    PETRICKSo, you know, maybe some of our ideas about breakfast are changing. But my sense is, we're really going to stick with that cereal for breakfast. And in fact, cereal is not just for breakfast anymore.

  • 12:40:34

    NNAMDIAbsolutely.

  • 12:40:35

    PETRICKI know people who eat it three meals a day, which I was like, really? But I think that that lunch and dinner mesh that works much more synergistically, particularly for large corporations. Whereas breakfast is still -- people are pretty tenuous about it.

  • 12:40:52

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be continuing this conversation. In the meantime, you can go to our website, kojoshow.org and check out our poll about fast food and breakfast habits. That's our website, kojoshow.org. If you'd like to join the broadcast, you can give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send email to kojo@wamu.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:42:57

    NNAMDIWe're discussing fast foods breakfast wars with Susan Berfield who covers the fast food industry among other things for Bloomberg Business Week and Gabriella Petrick who's a professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at George Mason University. 800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join the conversation. You can also send email to kojo@wamu.org.

  • 12:43:19

    NNAMDITaco Bell has put out ads that attack McDonald's breakfast for offering the same thing since 1984. Yet one reason why people choose fast food over other restaurants is because they can count on a level of consistency. You can go to a McDonald's or Burger King anywhere in the world and eat the same burger that you get at your local franchise back home. What are the risks of trying to spur a change in an industry that consumers always expect to be the same, Gabrielle?

  • 12:43:46

    PETRICKYou know, I think it's a really dangerous proposition for most of the companies largely because people sort of have a perspective and they have an idea of what McDonald's is versus what Wendy's is versus what Taco Bell is. And they're very careful to target particular aspects of the market. So Taco Bell is largely driven by teenage boys and young men and that college crowd. Whereas McDonald's is really about kids.

  • 12:44:13

    PETRICKWendy's is about adults. And so in trying to sort of recast the mix, they can end up in a lot of financial trouble because people put them in slots about what they want and what they expect. Even if we go to some place like Italy, it doesn't taste quite the same and there is some cultural variation, but the companies get pushed into that rather than being the driver of that change because our consumption habits -- I always say that they're very sticky.

  • 12:44:44

    PETRICKThey're very plastic in the long term, which over a generational -- or to -- will radically change what we eat and we have. But in the very short term, we don't change what we want to eat. Our grocery baskets don't change and we don't change what we put on the table. So we don't want that change in the restaurants we frequent every day or on a more regular basis. Whereas we'd go to that special place that would be very high end.

  • 12:45:07

    NNAMDISusan, you made some reference to this earlier. How does fast food innovation really come about? What kind of process do fast food giants go through before introducing a new product on the market?

  • 12:45:18

    BERFIELDIt comes about very, very slowly. I looked into the McDonald's McWrap sandwich which they introduced last year and wrote about the process, which was many, many years. And if you look at what a McWrap is for those of you who haven't had the pleasure, it's, you know, it's a tortilla with some grilled chicken, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and some sauce. So you could make that at home, you know, in about two minutes to an earlier, you know, caller's point.

  • 12:45:53

    BERFIELDAnd yet it took them years to determine, you know, everything from the size of the tortilla to the amount of chicken, how much lettuce, where are they going to get their cucumbers, what kind of sauces really work. So, you know, they -- all of these chains that said do spend a lot of money in kind of thinking about new items to put on the menu. And that's because, you know, they have to attract customers.

  • 12:46:19

    BERFIELDAnd as much as Gabriella's suggesting, and I think that's right, the customers know what they're going to get at a restaurant and they know what they're going to get at a specific restaurant and they like that. I mean, that is the whole point of fast food, really, is that it's kind of an industrialized process commodity that you can pick up. But what's happening for the fast food restaurants is that they're getting a lot of competition from different kinds of chains, like Chipotle or Five Guys, In n Out Burger.

  • 12:46:52

    BERFIELDThose places, you know, are at least offering the, I don't want to say mirage, but they're offering a healthier image. They are offering customers the chance to make some choices about what they're getting and often they make the food right in front you unlike, you know, most of these fast food chains. So McDonald's, you know, Taco Bell, Burger King, they're looking at the restaurants chains that are really doing well and they're copying what they can without changing too much.

  • 12:47:26

    NNAMDIWe got an email from H in Maryland who says, "It's totally inconsistent to act like a burger for breakfast is so weird, but all-day breakfast somehow makes sense." And we move on now to Chris in Warrington, VA who wants to question how much do we really know about what we're getting? Chris, you're on the air, go ahead please.

  • 12:47:45

    CHRISYeah, thank you, Kojo. My question is basically about sourcing our foods. I know in international companies, they source from different places. In the United States, we have very high standards of freshness and quality and what spray materials can go on. How do we know what country or what continent many of these parts come from and (unintelligible) ?

  • 12:48:04

    NNAMDISusan?

  • 12:48:04

    BERFIELDThat's a very good question. That's a huge issue, isn't it? You know, a lot of the supply chain is not very transparent. And I think people are probably really right to be worried about that. I think companies are trying to get a handle on that both for their own reasons and for kind of the public relations aspect of it. But if you, you know, if you look deep kind of, you know, into McDonald's website until you get to the ingredients for a lot of their food, they come from a lot of different places.

  • 12:48:43

    BERFIELDAnd, you know, it's processed food. So there's just a lot of chemicals and things in it. I mean, if you, you know, I think this kind of obvious. But if you are really genuinely concerned about, you know, where your food comes from, you want to, you know, eat food that has few ingredients and that you can trace, you know, as best as you can.

  • 12:49:06

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We move on to Lisa in Washington, DC. Lisa, your turn.

  • 12:49:12

    LISAWell, I haven't touched fast food in probably 25 years and I'm only 40. And it just seems to me that it's more of a class issue. You know, people who know about the chemicals, as the person just said, and sort of the yucky things that happen and that are involved with fast food tend to choose to make their own food or make better decisions. And unfortunately, fast food is cheap and it's available and it's affordable for a lot of people.

  • 12:49:39

    LISAAnd it does seem like it falls along class lines. And it seems like it's a sorry state of things when chemical, you know, infested food is really the only food that people can afford.

  • 12:49:49

    NNAMDIWhen I think it's both class lines, Gabriella, and demographic lines because you're talking young people.

  • 12:49:54

    PETRICKIt depends where you're going. So in some ways, it is class. But if we look at both Starbucks and Panera, they're both just as industrial. So I ate Starbucks yesterday and they have a free range spinach feta. But when you look at the ingredients list, there are, you know, I wouldn't say necessarily chemicals, but there are stabilizers, there are starches. There are, you know, there are different pieces.

  • 12:50:17

    PETRICKIt's not that it's necessary artificial, but it's designed to fit into an industrialized process. The other interesting thing I'm seeing when I'm looking at places like Starbucks or a Panera or even McDonald's is the calorie count and how important that's becoming to every day Americans even though we might not understand what a calorie means and what we thought to be eating.

  • 12:50:42

    PETRICKOr even if we overeat that the companies are seeing that as sort of this way to capture to audience. And so the restaurants are a class. So Panera is different than, and Five Guys is different than McDonald's.

  • 12:50:56

    NNAMDIWell, let's move on to the population to whom calories are irrelevant, Susan. To many, the idea of a waffle taco is simply a bit outrageous. But we see these kinds of concoctions in the fast food industry all the time. Kentucky Fried Chicken just released it's Double Down chicken sandwich, bacon and melted cheese -- I can't say this without laughing -- bacon and melted sandwiched between two pieces of fried chicken. What's the appeal of these more extreme products? And why do we see more and more fast food companies investing in them?

  • 12:51:30

    BERFIELDYeah. Well, I think of them as dude food. You know...

  • 12:51:34

    NNAMDINot for this dude.

  • 12:51:38

    BERFIELDWell, you know, I mean, among the many ways that you could kind of break down who eats, you know, who eats fast food and why. Among the younger, you know, younger population, say, you know, kids from 18 to their mid-20s, 34 percent of young men eat at fast food restaurants regularly and only 23 percent of young women do. So when the fast food chains talk about kind of, you know, getting younger customers, often they're really thinking of young men.

  • 12:52:11

    BERFIELDAnd so we get things like Doritos Locos Tacos, you know, Dunkin' Donuts for a while was making a breakfast sandwich with donuts instead of bread. There are, you know, a whole long list of kind of extreme foods. And, you know, again, they're a way to get attention, absolutely. Oftentimes, they are only offered for a limited time. That, you know, create scarcity. Always a good marketing trick.

  • 12:52:43

    BERFIELDAnd also, kind of interestingly, most chain restaurants are not required to post the calorie count for items that they're offering for only a short amount of time. So that may go some way toward easing any kind of guilt or anxiety that people feel about trying them. But in general, I think it's just a way to kind of get attention. And, you know, to Gabriella's earlier point, people do tend to eat healthier when they're home and view eating out as a bit of a...

  • 12:53:15

    NNAMDIYeah, when you take a vacation from your diet, yes.

  • 12:53:16

    BERFIELDExactly. And maybe that's fine, I don't know. But, you know, it's definitely not fine if it's a regular thing.

  • 12:53:24

    NNAMDINow you're making me thinking about having the Double Down.

  • 12:53:26

    BERFIELDI'm sorry. Are you hungry?

  • 12:53:29

    NNAMDIWe got a comment from Aruna who said, "I remember being incredulous when I saw 'pancake on a stick' at a Sonic Burger a few years ago and I decided to eat it -- convenient but not edible." Gabriella, you have studied the history of taste among Americans. What is it about our palate that would attract us to these combinations of melted cheese, fried chicken and maple syrup?

  • 12:53:49

    PETRICKSweet, salty and fat.

  • 12:53:51

    NNAMDIAll in one.

  • 12:53:52

    PETRICKAll in one place, conveniently hand held. So it's, you know, these are sort of more biologically hard-wired. But, you know, the other keys of this is it's hard to make this stuff taste good. And so, thinking about what makes things taste better -- salt, sugar and fat. They also help us satiated. So I can have a smaller portion and still feel full. I looked at the taco -- waffle taco. It wasn't very big. I was surprised at how small it actually was.

  • 12:54:28

    PETRICKBut with all of that fat and actually the waffle itself wasn't really so much as a waffle as in a bun with squares. And so -- but it was very fatty. I found it a little, you know, it was a little weird to me and then this sort of synthetic egg just to make it sort of stabilized. But we like the way it tastes. And there's so much cheese everywhere. I guess cheese is the new bacon.

  • 12:54:50

    NNAMDIWhat is a sort of synthetic egg?

  • 12:54:53

    PETRICKWell, you know, I don't know. But in looking at the ingredients when I was preparing, there's a lot of stabilizer in it and they sort of move the yolk away from the egg. They'll process them each separately and then bring them back together to get the consistency, whether it's something that's supposed to be like a fried egg or whether it's supposed to be something like a scrambled egg.

  • 12:55:12

    NNAMDIOn to Jack in Fairfax, VA. Jack, your turn.

  • 12:55:17

    JACKThank you. I heard this conversation about burgers for breakfast and was, you know, reminded of a great American tradition and it kind of brought the whole idea that there are other fast food outlets that you all haven't mentioned. Of course the great tradition is the Half-Smoke, the spicy hot dog looking thing. And those are available at 7-Eleven. And they're -- I think there's a lot of those being consumed. That was just a theory.

  • 12:55:46

    NNAMDII know. I've had Half-Smokes once. Is there a Whole Smoke?

  • 12:55:49

    PETRICKYes, there is a Whole Smoke.

  • 12:55:50

    NNAMDIOkay. Well, could you explain the Half Smoke as a part of the breakfast tradition.

  • 12:55:54

    PETRICKYou know, I don't know that I know much about the Half Smoke as a part of the breakfast tradition. I think it's just, again, part of -- I think it's also regional. So the 7-Eleven in Virginia and in the South may have the Half Smokes because it talks about barbecue in America rather than sort of the pull it, the good Eastern European blood that I got in me. We would do kielbasa. And so there are just sort of different ways and sort of you get some -- you do get some regionalism.

  • 12:56:23

    PETRICKAnd so you do get some of that variety depending on where you were in the United States because people like what was homemade or somewhere in the middle of what was homemade.

  • 12:56:31

    NNAMDIDifferent things appeal to different parts of Gabriella's blood. Susan, fast food companies are facing pressure to make their menus healthier. Last year, you wrote about a balanced healthy addition, the premium McWrap. Who are fast food trains trying to attract with fresher choices? And why do they have to be careful not to make their menus too healthy? We have about a minute left.

  • 12:56:54

    BERFIELDOkay. You know, I think, you know, the push for a healthier fast food comes really from everybody. But I guess from a company's point of view, they're looking at mothers, you know, and they want mothers to feel good about bringing their families to McDonald's. Not to say fathers don't care but, you know, in their mind, it's kind of it's mothers. And that said, you know, McDonald's has had salads on its menu for more than a decade.

  • 12:57:21

    BERFIELDAnd they still account for less than 3 percent of total sales. So I think, you know, these restaurants have to offer healthier things. You know, now there's an egg white McMuffin, too. But I just don't think people, you know, go to a restaurant like McDonald's or Taco Bell to eat healthy. You know, if you're there for some reason and there's no choices, then it's not to have the healthy option.

  • 12:57:46

    PETRICKI think it's the difference between what our culture says we ought to do and what we really do and what real people really eat.

  • 12:57:52

    NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. Gabriella Petrick is a professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at George Mason University. Gabriella, good to see you again.

  • 12:58:00

    PETRICKGood to see you. Thanks.

  • 12:58:01

    NNAMDISusan Berfield covers the fast food industry for Bloomberg Business Week among other things. Susan, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:58:08

    BERFIELDThank you very much.

  • 12:58:10

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

Topics + Tags

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows

The Politics Hour – Friday October 13th

Friday, Oct 13 2017Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett on minimum wage hikes, Purple Line construction, and violent gang suppression. Plus, Republican candidate for Virginia governor Ed Gillespie joins Kojo and Tom Sherwood in studio.